Lucius Annaeus Seneca
(often known simply as Seneca
, or Seneca the Younger
) (c. 3 BC
- AD 65
) was a Roman philosopher
, and in one work, humorist
, of the "Silver Age
" of Latin literature
Born in Cordoba, Spain, Seneca was the second son of Helvia and Marcus (Lucius) Annaeus Seneca, a wealthy rhetorician known as Seneca the Elder. Seneca's older brother, Gallio , was proconsul at Achaia (where early Christian documents recall he encountered the apostle Paul about AD 52). Seneca was uncle to the poet Lucan, by his younger brother, Annaeus Mela.
Tradition relates that he was a sickly child, he was taken to Rome by an aunt for schooling. He was trained in rhetoric, and studied neo-Pythagorean and, principally, Stoic philosophy. But there is very little hard biographical information available from his own works and where this appears to be the case one needs to exercise extreme caution as it is invaraiably misleading and included simply to illustrate some philosophical idea rather than to impart biographical data. Other historical accounts are written from biased points of view and make the reconstruction of the original Seneca problematic.
Under his father's and aunt's guidance, he established a successful career as an advocate. Around 37 he was nearly killed as a result of a conflict with the emperor Caligula, who only spared him because he believed the sickly Seneca would not live long anyhow. In 41, Messalina, wife of the emperor Claudius, persuaded Claudius to have him banished to Corsica on a charge of adultery with Julia Livilla. He spent his exile in philosophical and natural study, and wrote the Consolations.
In 49, Claudius' new wife, Agrippina, had him recalled to Rome to tutor her son, L. Domitius, who was to become the emperor Nero. On Claudius' murder in 54, Agrippina secured the recognition of Nero as emperor over Claudius' son, Britannicus.
For the first five years, the quinquennium Neronis, Nero ruled wisely under the influence of Seneca and the praetorian prefect, Sextus Afranius Burrus. But, before long, Seneca and Burrus had lost their influence over Nero and his reign became tyrannical. With the death of Burrus in 62, Seneca retired and devoted his time to more study and writing.
In 65, Seneca was accused of being involved in a plot to murder Nero, the Pisonian conspiracy. Without a trial, he was ordered by Nero to commit suicide. Tacitus gives an account of the suicide of Seneca and his wife, Pompeia Paulina, who chose to follow her husband in death.
Works attributed to Seneca include a satire, a meteorological essay, philosophical essays, 124 letters dealing with moral issues, and ten tragedies. One of the tragedies attributed to him, Octavia, is clearly not by him. He even appears as a character in the play. His authorship of another, Hercules on Oeta, is doubtful. Seneca's brand of Stoic philosophy emphasized practical steps by which the reader might confront life's problems. In particular he considered it important to confront the fact of one's own mortality. The discussion of how to approach death dominates many of his letters.
Senecan tragedy was probably closet drama, writing in a dramatic form but intended to be read rather than performed . He adapted plays from the classical Greek theatre by the tragedians Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides. Seneca's plays were widely read in medieval European universities, so they strongly influenced Renaissance tragic drama, particularly the literature of Elizabethan England.
Dates are approximate
- (40) Ad Marciam, De consolatione (To Marcia, On consolation)
- (41) De Ira (On anger)
- (42) Ad Helviam matrem, De consolatione (To Helvia, On consolation) - Letter to his mother consoling her in his absence during exile.
- (44) De Consolatione ad Polybium (To Polybius, On consolation)
- (49) De Brevitate Vitae (On the shortness of life) - Essay expounding that any length of life is sufficient if lived wisely.
- (62) De Otio (On leisure)
- (63) De Tranquillitate Animi (On tranquillity of mind)
- (64) De Providentia (On providence)
- (??) De Constantia Sapientiis (On the Firmness of the Wise Person)
- (??) De Vita Beata (On the happy life)
- (54) Hercules Furens (The Madness of Hercules)
- (54) Troades (The Trojan Women)
- (54) Medea
- (54) Phoenissae (The Phoenician Women)
- (54) Phaedra
- (54) Agamemnon
- (54) Thyestes
- (54) Oedipus
- (54) Hercules Oetaeus (Hercules on Oeta): Problematic authorship
- (54) Octavia: Problematic authorship
- (54) Apocolocyntosis divi Claudii (The Pumpkinification of the Divine Claudius), a satirical work.
- (56) De Clementia (On Clemency) - written to Nero on the need for clemency as a virtue in an emperor.
- (63) De Beneficiis (On Benefits) [seven books]
- (63) Naturales quaestiones [seven books] of no great originality but offering an insight into ancient theories of cosmology, meteorology, and similar subjects.
- (64) Epistulae morales ad Lucilium - collection of 124 letters dealing with moral issues written to Lucilius.
- (370?) Cujus etiam ad Paulum apostolum leguntur epistoiae : These letters, allegedly between Seneca and St. Paul, were revered by early authorities, but currently are not believed to be authentic by most scholars.  
Last updated: 08-10-2005 10:10:59